Geraldine "Gerri" Twerdy Santoro is the woman in the infamous photo used by abortion advocates to illustrate the horror of illegal abortion. The photo, taken by police, was lifted from the files of New York City Medical Examiner Milton Helpern, who local police had called in for help in solving the crime. The photo showed Gerri, nude, face-down with her knees under her, on the floor of the motel room where she died on June 8, 1964. Ms. Magazine first published the photo in 1973, and abortion advocates continue to use the picture in posters. And in 1995, Boston filmmaker Jane Gillooly produced a film, "Leona's Sister Gerri," to rally people behind the cause of readily available abortion, on PBS, at taxpayer expense.
An icon in death, who was Geraldine Santoro in life?
Born August 16, 1935, Gerri was described as fun-loving, given to playing hooky and getting sent to the principal's office for mischief. Gerri wanted to beat an engaged friend to the altar, so she got married at age 18 to Salvatore "Sam" Santoro, three or four weeks after she had met him at a bus stop.
But Santoro was abusive. Santoro reportedly blamed the abuse on sinus problems that gave him headaches, so he moved his little family to California. But the abuse continued. So in 1963, Gerri left Sam Santoro and took their two daughters to live on her family's farm in Coventry, Connecticut.
Gerri got a job at Mansfield State Training School. There she met Clyde Dixon, a 43-year-old married man who worked with her. The two had an affair, and Gerri got pregnant.
This was in 1964. Sam Santoro announced he was coming from California to visit his daughters. Gerri, 28 years old and six and a half months pregnant, reportedly feared for either for her life, or that she would lose custody of her children.
Gerri asked a friend for some ergot, ostensibly for a another friend. But evidently nothing came of this. Her sister Leona said she managed to pull together about $700 or $750 for Gerri, thinking Gerri could go someplace far way, to an organization like Catholic Charities, to get help.
Instead, on June 8, Gerri and Clyde Dixon checked into a motel in Norwich, Connecticut under aliases. The plan was for Dixon, using surgical instruments and a medical textbook he'd gotten from a co-worker at Mansfield State Training School, to perform an abortion. The co-worker had access to the instruments and book because his wife was a physician.
Dixon started the abortion by inserting a catheter into Gerri's uterus. However, Gerri began to hemorrhage. Dixon abandoned her, leaving her to bleed to death. Her body was discovered by a maid the following morning.
Dixon fled the state. Three days later, out of gas and out of money, he turned himself into police in Morgantown, West Virginia. He pleaded nolo contender to manslaughter and conspiracy to commit abortion, and was sentenced to a year and a day to three years. The man who had provided the instruments was also arrested.
It wasn't until after Ms. published the photo that Gerri's daughter, Joannie Griffith, then 17, was shown the picture by her aunt and told the truth of her mother's death. She was outraged at how Ms. was using the photo, saying, "How dare they flaunt this? How dare they take my beautiful mom, my beautiful, beautiful mom, and put this in front of the public eye. And who gave them permission. I was pissed."
The headline in Ms. was "Never Again." Never again, they said, would women die from dangerous abortions as Gerri had died, because the Supreme Court had handed down Roe vs. Wade.
And with that, mainstream feminist interest in women's needless abortion deaths was layed to rest. Only twice since Roe have I noted mainstream feminists upset over a woman's death from abortion. The first time was in 1977, when Rosie Jimenez died from an illegal abortion after being told that the taxpayers would not pay for any more elective abortions for her. The second was in 1988, when Becky Bell died of pneumonia shortly after miscarrying.
Meanwhile, women continue to die horrible deaths. Eurice Agbagaa was left hemorrhaging in the care of a receptionist. Claudia Caventou was heard screaming in the abortion clinic before she died. Carolina Gutierrez died of sepsis after doctors had amputated her gangrenous hands and feet to try to save her. Wilma Harris was left unattended for 12 hours before she died. Suzanne Logan was left paralyzed and mute after abortion, and died later in a nursing home. Rita McDowell awoke screaming, collapsed in her mother's arms, and died from her abortion. Sandra Milton bled to death in front of her three children.
Contrary to what the abortion lobby seems to believe, these women are women too. Their lives were just as valuable as Gerri Santoro's. But they're not politically expedient for abortion advocates, so they're swept under the rug, given no more notice than the fetuses disposed of in abortion clinics every day. And they continue to wave Gerri Santoro like a bloody flag, as if a legal abortion would have protected her from the abuse she'd endured for so many years.